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Spirit world Studio Arena revives Ibsen's take on hypocrisy

Don't mistake "Ghosts" for a ghost story. The great Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen was not called the Father of Modern Drama for nothing. "Ghosts," first produced in 1881, is naturalism bent out of shape to expose the underbelly of ordinary lives beset by lies and secrets too horrible to reveal and too dangerous to conceal.

A follow-up to Ibsen's "A Doll's House," "Ghosts" was reviled at its opening for forbidden topics that include syphilis, incest and corruption among priests. Less shocking in a day when AIDS ravages the world, pedophiles roam the Internet and priests continue to do unpriestly acts, the play nonetheless remains a stunning indictment of hypocrisy and the misguided religious values behind it -- all very pertinent ideas to this 21st century democracy of ours.

The play opens tonight in Studio Arena Theatre in a production directed by the venerable Kent Paul, whose directorial talents range from Eugene O'Neill and George Bernard Shaw to contemporary playwrights such as Frank McGuinness and Joe Sutton. Significantly, on this, the 100th anniversary of Ibsen's death, Studio Arena has commissioned a new translation by highly regarded writer Robert D. Vivian.

The story of "Ghosts" follows the beleaguered life of Mrs. Alving -- played by Cynthia Mace, who returns to the Studio Arena stage after a 20-year absence -- a widow who tries to save that which cannot be saved: the reputation of her late besotted and philandering husband. She holds tight the knowledge of her husband's crimes even as she sees her bohemian son, Oswald, played by Mark Thornton, flirt with the maid, just as her husband did years before with disastrous results for all concerned.

The cast also includes Philip Goodwin as the priggish Pastor Manders, Aimee Phelan-Deconinck as Regina Engstrand and John FitzGibbon as Engstrand.

"Ghosts," its heightened emotions always one step away from melodrama, follows a dark plot of many twists and turns. It ends in a famous final scene that spectacularly demonstrates Ibsen's daunting dramatic prowess.

PREVIEW

WHAT: Henrik Ibsen's "Ghosts"

WHEN: Opens tonight, through March 5

WHERE: Studio Arena Theatre, 710 Main St.

TICKETS: $32 to $53

INFO: 856-5650 or (800) 77STAGE

e-mail: rhuntington@buffnews.com

Going to see "Ghosts" or any other local theater this weekend? Give us your take in 250 words or less, and send it to bconnolly@buffnews.com or Gusto Comments, Newsroom, The Buffalo News, P.O. Box 100, Buffalo, NY 14240. Include your name and phone number. All submissions are subject to editing.

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